The Obvious Art Of The Goldfish

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Feb 252008

If maritime news is the art of stating the obvious then the recent statement by DNV Maritime’s principal safety consultant Dr. Torkel Soma about the worsening situation regarding navigational accidents was big news. Certainly it came as no surprise to anyone who regularly reads the News and Mail section of Maritime Accident Casebook, or to anyone with a memory longer than the attention span of a goldfish.

It is particulary ironic following last year’s statements by the president of the International Association Of Classification Societies suggesting that safety was pretty much under control and class societies would have to re-invent themselves for more politically correct challenges like pollution control. Prehaps class societies might re-invent themselves with more of an eye on safety.

Anyone familiar with detailed accident reports will be struck by the number of occasions in which equipment approved or accepted by a classification society has turned out to be inadequate and not fit for purpose. Rarely has a classification society been found liable for not doing its job.

Lately, MAC has received reports of class surveyors being subject to threat and intimidation, in particular in shipyards in the far east which are doing well in the newbuild boom.

Of course, class societies are paid by shipowners for approval, a hare and hounds situation that, we are assured, leads to no impropriety yet still generates a feel of instinctive discomfort.

Dr. Soma does not discuss the role of class societies in safety, he puts the blame on the shortage of officers, faster promotions, lack of experience, increasing technical complexity, increased workload and commercial pressure. It’s a shortage the industry has known about for decades, the results entirely predictable.

What Dr. Soma doesn’t point out is that the industry is doing pretty well, which is why there are all those bright shiny newbuilds coming off the slips looking for crew. What the industry isn’t doing is sending a little of that profit into substantial improvements in training and education in creating a safety culture throughout an organisation. Nor is the industry paying attention to the clear and obvious need for competency assessment and management of crew.

What Dr. Soma’s figures show is the inevitable result of short-term thinking and an industry which declines to invest in the future, invests little in safety less someone holds its feet over the fire and consistently looks for a quick fix instead of a coherent and stable long term strategy.

Dr. Soma says that safety culture is “something which the maritime industry evidentially needs to focus more on” and he’s right. Class societies are an integral part of that industry and we’re looking forward to hearing Dr. Soma’s recommendations as to what those societies should be doing to play their role in creating and enforcing safety regimes among those who pay their wages.

After all, if class societies aren’t partof the solution, they’re part of the problem.

Feb 232008

From Det Norske Veritas 

Singapore: Updated figures for 2007 show that the losses from navigational accident within the shipping industry are continuing to increase. This trend is also confirmed by the insurance industry. Premiums may increase by as much as 30 per cent in 2008.

DNV monitors the annual frequency of serious accidents. Over the past five years, there has been an increasing incidence of serious navigational accidents in several shipping segments. This increase is confirmed by a lot of the leading insurance companies such as Skuld, Norwegian Hull Club and The Swedish Club.

In addition to the increasing frequency of navigational accidents, the cost of each repair caused by accidents is rising. The yards are overbooked, making it hard to find a repair slot resulting in increased prices. Collisions, groundings and contacts now account for 60% of the most costly accidents.

Dr. Torkel Soma, Principal Safety Consultant in DNV Maritime, says: “DNV’s statistics shows that a ship is twice as likely to be involved in a serious grounding, collision or contact accident today compared to only five years ago. In addition, estimates show that also the costs of these accidents have doubled. Since this is the general trend for the international commercial fleet, the maritime industry needs to act on this immediately.”

The boom in the shipping market and increased deliveries of newbuildings has resulted in pressure on crews. The shortage of officers has resulted in lower retention and faster promotion. As a result, the general level of experience is decreasing on board. At the same time new technical solutions have been introduced which might have increased the complexity of operations.

Dr. Soma pinpoint: “Reliable technology and complying manuals are no assurance against making errors. Collisions, groundings and contact accidents do almost always involve human acts.”

The latest figures were presented at a DNV seminar in Singapore. Helge Kjeøy, regional manager DNV Maritime South East Asia says: “The main factors explaining the negative developments over the past few years are – that the undersupply of crew worldwide results in reduced experience and that the high commercial pressure results in a high workload. Adding new and more complex equipment does not only help the situation. Avoiding accidents under such situations requires a good safety culture, something which the maritime industry evidently needs to focus more on.”

The experience of leading shipping companies shows that the focus has to be turned more in the direction of human elements and organisational factors, including all those involved – from the directors of the company to the officers on the bridge. Dr. Soma summarize: “Radical safety performance improvements with reduced accident frequency have been achieved through a structured approach addressing behaviour and culture. For the industry to maintain its traditional good track record, the resilience of operations has to be addressed on a larger scale by industry players.”

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